A recent discussion in my home centered around a television episode in which the “happy ending” consisted of the hero and heroine deciding to move in together but not get married. I suspect most readers of this post do not believe that that is truly a happy ending. But why? Is it just because God says so? Well, that would be enough, but there is more to say about it—God has given us more.
First, we must understand that sex, in its true form, is inseparable from marriage. This is more than just saying that marriage is the only proper context for sexual expression. It means that the very essence of sex, as its Creator designed it, includes it being an expression of the marital union. You can see this if you do a study of the passages in Scripture that use the phrase “the two shall become one flesh.” This phrase refers most literally to sex itself, but it also refers to the whole marriage union, of which sex is the physical expression. C.S. Lewis explained it this way:
The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ’s words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism—for that is what the words “one flesh” would be in modern English.… The inventor of the human machine was telling us that its two halves, the male and the female, were made to be combined together in pairs, not simply on the sexual level, but totally combined. The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union. The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again.¹
Sex as a physical union has its meaning only in the context of the relational, emotional, legal union that is the whole marriage. So while Paul speaks of sex with a prostitute as “becoming one flesh” (1 Corinthians 6:16), he does so only to point out how horribly such sex fails in its God-intended meaning. That meaning is only properly expressed when sex is an expression of the marriage union. Just like a word out of context can actually carry a different meaning, so, too, sexual activity outside of the context of marriage carries a meaning different than that for which God designed it.
And that God-intended meaning is nothing less than the gospel itself. In both 1 Corinthians 6:12–20 and Ephesians 5:25–32, the union termed as “the two shall become one flesh” is described as pointing to our union with Christ. And because sex is inseparable from marriage, it is not just marriage as a one-flesh union, but also sex as the physical expression of that union that is meant to picture the union of Christ and his Bride, the Church. Sex as an expression of marital union speaks the gospel; sex independent of marriage speaks anti-gospel.
What is one specific way this applies to our “happily” cohabitating television heroes? Let’s consider how the lifelong permanence of the marriage union affects the meaning of sex. Jesus speaks to the permanence of the marriage relationship in Matthew 19:3–6. The Pharisees asked him whether one can divorce his wife for any cause. Jesus answers by going back to the beginning, quoting, “The two shall become one flesh.” His conclusion is that the intent from the beginning was that marriage be permanent. For the time in which marriage exists—this life—it extends from now until the end—“until death do we part.” This covenantal commitment is largely what constitutes “getting married,” and this permanence is part of the implication of becoming one flesh. This has profound implications for how sex is to be expressed and experienced.
In 1 Corinthians 6:12–20, the idea of permanence is a part of how Paul relates sex to the gospel, specifically, how sexual immorality is incongruent with the gospel. Paul begins by quoting the mindset he will refute. It is the mindset that approaches sex and sexuality from a merely biological perspective, as an appetite to be fulfilled: “’Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other” (verse 13). This view sees sexuality as simply identifying the urges of our bodies and acting accordingly. This view also emphasizes the present; the future is irrelevant. In contrast to this, Paul gives a perspective that is not biological but theological: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (verse 13). He is placing the question of sexual morality into the greater context of the gospel, to which sexuality is merely a pointer. Then Paul says, “Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (verse 16–17). He is not just saying something like, “It’s not nice to be joined to both a prostitute and the Lord!” Rather, the idea is that sexual union is supposed to be a signpost to spiritual union with Christ, but if that union is outside of marriage, with a prostitute, it displays a “union” which is a tragic distortion of the union we have with Christ. One way in which it is a distortion is that it is void of any connection to permanence. This is why Paul counters the live-for-the-moment motto, “God will destroy both one and the other,” with, “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (verse 14). Rather than being merely the source of animal impulses and appetites to be followed in the moment, our bodies have eternal significance in our union with Christ; because we are united to a risen Christ, our bodies will also be raised, not destroyed. Paul is saying that our present experience of union with Christ is shaped by the certainty of our future resurrection with him. That makes a tremendous difference to us today. If sex is to point to this vital gospel truth, it too must be grounded in permanence rather than the instability of momentary passions.
One way to get at this is to ask, “How would our understanding and experience of the gospel change if it was not based on an eternal promise—if the benefits of union with Christ were only a present possession, with no guarantee or commitment from Jesus concerning the future?” In other words, what if the relationship of Christ to his Church was merely a cohabitation, not a marriage? For instance, if we did not have God’s promise that he would surely complete what he had begun in us, what would be the effect? We would conclude that we had to perfect ourselves, to prove to him that we were worth his sticking with us—and we would have no confidence in our relationship when we failed in any way. We would be insecure, fearful, needy, and miserable. You see where this is going: This is exactly the way sex, disconnected from the permanence of marriage, affects us and our relationships.
What are some ways in which our culture’s views and experiences of sex are not grounded in permanence? It is all about what we can experience right now. Hook-up culture tries to pretend it is a non-relational transaction. Pornography encourages the fantasy of sexual enjoyment without any relationship to another person at all. How does this negatively impact our experiences of sexuality? What fears, sorrows, or hurts result? If we are honest, sex—and the desire for it—is often dominated by fear, disappointment, and grief. Instead of security, we get insecurity. Instead of the confidence and freedom of knowing we are loved and accepted in spite of our failures or shortcomings or imperfections, we are constantly made aware of our need to impress or please or perform perfectly. We want affection but are terrified of not measuring up to expectations. We have to compete to become desirable or to stay desirable to those whose attention we crave. We are afraid of rejection. We think we have found joy, only to be jilted and thrown out like used trash. We turn to fantasy and porn to escape the huge risk and crushing disappointment of misunderstanding and rejection that come with broken sexuality. Sex without permanence, like a gospel without permanence, provides no safety at all, only a miserable striving after what cannot be grasped.
This is why the TV couple moving in together was not a happy ending. It is just another seductive counterfeit of true sexuality. Without the joy and security of the marital permanence, it utterly fails in its purpose to point to the joy and security of the gospel.
¹Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity, (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 104–105.
Grief is a loaded word. It is something we all feel but rarely acknowledge. Sometimes we try to dictate what we should be allowed to grieve, like when a terminal diagnosis is given or a loved one dies.
But what about the grief we experience when we give up the things we love in order to turn to Christ in obedience? In other words, we experience the deep pain of loss of the things we love when we turn away from our sin in repentance. We experience grief even though we pursue holiness and obedience. This type of grief isn’t named very much in our Christian circles.
Maybe you’re grieving a gut-wrenching heartbreak as you walk away from an unholy relationship, or the pain of singleness as you refuse to run to other lovers, or technology to fill the void of your aloneness. Or the dream job you walked away from because traveling constantly threatened to jeopardize your marriage. Or the reality that, despite your best efforts, social media continues to be an unsafe place that breeds discontentment and jealousy for you.
It hurts to turn away from comforts and pleasures that have replaced Christ. It is godly, and it is absolutely what we are called to do, but it hurts to let go of our desires. Our flesh dies a slow death, and, in the process, we suffer. I mean, is death ever comfortable?
2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Godly grief is characterized by repentance that causes us to turn back from selfish pursuits and live for God. Worldly grief leads to remorse brought about by what we lose from a worldly point of view.
Grief in the repentance process leads us either toward Jesus or away from him.
Worldly grief that leads away from Jesus threatens to bring us right back to the destructive things we are trying to walk away from. The pain leads us away from Jesus as we give way to the temptation to focus on what we have been called to forsake, give up, and run away from (1 Corinthians 6:18–20 and 10:13–14, 2 Timothy 2:2).
His comfort and compassion for us are real as we work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12), putting to death what he died for on the cross. However, God never encourages us to focus on what we are giving up or letting go of; he knows this only exacerbates the spiritual pain associated with sin (Colossians 3:1–3).
In Matthew 19, we read about a rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. After Jesus answers him, the man feels like he has kept all of the commands, yet wonders what he still lacks. Jesus tells him to go and sell all he owns and give it to the poor, and then he will have treasure in heaven. His response? “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:22). It appears that the cost was too much for him, and this man went away from Jesus because he couldn’t let go of his stuff.
Grief also has the ability to lead us towards Jesus, the one who bore all our afflictions, sorrows, grief, and pain, including spiritual sickness and pain, on the cross. Isaiah 53, commonly known as the Suffering Servant chapter, talks of our Savior as one who suffered and was pierced, crushed, afflicted. As he bore the judgement of our sins, Jesus’ physical agony in the Crucifixion was gruesome and intense, but his obedience to the Father is what counted.
Jesus lamented and suffered because he ran towards us in our sin, taking it on himself. He left the home of heaven to do this. We lament and suffer because he calls us to run away from our sin and towards him as our home. There are so many things here on earth to which we can attach ourselves, so the process of letting go and having things ripped away feels like death. God cares about all of the pain that we experience, but we can rest in knowing that Jesus carried it all for us on the cross: sin and the painful consequences of sin—including the grief we have in repenting from sin.
How do you to turn towards Christ with your grief?
- Give yourself permission to feel (1 Peter 5:7, Psalm 34:18). You have the freedom to grieve, cry, and be sad. That is a part of our human experience, and, sadly, these are emotions we often try to push past as fast as we can. As you allow yourself to feel, you open yourself up to the death of certain things while also feeling the peace of coming alive to others. It is both a letting go and an embracing. As Christians, we talk about lament and grief, but the practical outworking of that is honestly facing our feelings.
- Let other people know you in your grief (James 5:16). Grief makes our reality foggy. We need to hear other voices besides our own thoughts. Grief will scream for you to turn back to what you know, so we need people to remind us to keep going, that our sacrifices will be worth it. It is also a gift to be known by others, who can’t truly care for us if we don’t let them see us as we really are.
- Stand on promises found in God’s Word. Our feelings lie, so as you let yourself feel, don’t rely on them to navigate the rapid waters of grief. Instead, cling to the promise that there will be a day when God will wipe away every tear, when there will be no more crying or pain or suffering (Revelation 21:4). Meditate on the inheritance that is kept for you in heaven that will never perish, spoil, or fade (1 Peter 1:3–5). Hold onto the reality that God is with you and will never let you go (Isaiah 41:10). Stand firm on the promise that nothing in all of creation will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31–39).
- Pray. Pray Ephesians 3:14–21 for yourself. Pray for the strengthening Spirit to make space for Jesus to dwell in you. Pray for the ability to comprehend his incomprehensible love. Pray for the fullness of God to fill you up in every way so that God’s character will be reproduced in you by the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray also Psalm 27:13, that you would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living as there is still goodness for us to experience in this life, even as we grieve the release of certain desires.
How can helpers help?
I know a woman who was going through the heartbreak of walking away from a same-sex relationship in order to pursue Jesus. In the days and weeks after the break-up, nobody in her circle asked how she was doing. She thought she knew why they didn’t; the unspoken message was that this was not something she should be crying over, and her pain was part of the consequences that come with sexual sin. She wondered if they were afraid of feeling uncomfortable of hearing her talk about missing her girlfriend. One day, a friend of hers did listen as she cried and honestly shared her feelings. Her friend responded with, “I’m sorry; this must be so hard.” This was the first time this young woman had ever heard anyone acknowledge the heartbreak she was going through. It was a pivot point for her, and being seen in this way gave her courage to keep moving towards Jesus.
If you’re coming alongside someone who is experiencing the painful loss of false comforts and pleasures for the sake of Christ, don’t miss her heart. Be careful not to minimize or dismiss the heartache because what she is feeling is real, even for misplaced desires. Pray earnestly for him to know the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3–5) and that his love for God would overshadow what he is letting go of.
To those who are suffering these losses, their grief might feel like whitewater rafting. For awhile, it might be smooth sailing. Then they take a curve, and raging rapids throw them out of the boat. The rapids are real. Although you can’t swim for your friend, you can grab her life vest and pull her back into the boat. By doing so, you acknowledge that what he is going through is real while you help him hang on to Jesus in the rapids.
The following blog is an article from our 2021 Harvest USA Magazine entitled Standing Firm for His Glory. To read more articles from this issue, simply click here or visit www.harvestusa.org/magazines/.
“But isn’t it just a lust problem?” Mike asked. I was explaining to Mike the Harvest USA Tree Model, the core content of our ministry to both individuals and churches. Mike wanted to believe what I was saying about the deeper aspects of his sin. It gave him hope that there was a path to victory in his fight against the porn habit he’d been losing for years, because willpower certainly hadn’t worked. His objection revealed a problem that most of us encounter when thinking about our sin.
Mike’s question forces us to seek a more complete understanding of sin. We tend to think of sin in simple ways that only scratch the surface: I’m tempted; I fall; I repeat. But a biblical view of sin goes much deeper. This is what our Harvest USA Tree Model illustrates.
Jesus describes sin as having a source deep within us, in the heart, the epicenter of where our intellect, will, and affections all converge. In Matthew 15:18–19, Jesus said, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Thinking of our hearts as part of a tree originates from Jesus’ words in Luke 6:43–45: “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his heart produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Building upon these verses, our Tree Model pictures the heart as the source of a tree, the seed.
The Seed: Our Hearts
The most basic characteristic of the seed, or heart, is that it is fallen. The word “autonomy” summarizes the sinful inclination of our hearts. We desire self-rule rather than being ruled by the authority and care of God. Our desire for autonomous independence from God affects every aspect of our lives. It shapes our reactions to our circumstances and experiences; it skews our deepest desires; it taints our functional worldviews. These are the inner workings of sin that bear fruit in what we do. The following three make up the other elements of the tree: the soil, the roots, and the trunk.
The Soil: Our Circumstances and Experiences
The soil is the context for the seed. The parents to whom we were born, our families, and our peers are all part of the soil. It is all the things those people do to us or for us—or neglect to do. It is everything that happens to us, good or bad. We are praised, abused, affirmed, attacked, protected, or wounded. We experience trauma and suffering, or we live in shelter and safety. Together, these experiences comprise the context in which our fallen hearts are active.
It is important to note that the soil is influential but not determinative. The influence of experience and context can be profound and must be taken into account if we want to understand and turn from entrenched sin patterns, but our circumstances do not determine our actions. Our fallen hearts are always interacting with the soil, interpreting and responding to both positive and negative experiences.
The Roots: Our Deepest Desires
One of the ways in which our hearts interact with our contexts is by desire. We were created to receive certain blessings and gifts from the gracious hand of our Creator. As his image bearers, God gave us desires for security, significance, glory, affirmation, love, purpose, and order. Marriage, fellowship, friendship, and other social connections were intended to be conduits of love, affirmation, affection, and intimacy as we became “fruitful and multiplied,” according to God’s blessing.
We still want all of these blessings that were given or promised to us, but now our hearts want them autonomously. We don’t want to receive God’s blessings in his way, in his time, according to his authority or design; we want them on our terms. Second, the soil itself is cursed, and the world and the relationships in it are broken. This combination means that our desires are problematic for us. Separated from God, the true source of every blessing we could rightly desire, we tend to substitute counterfeits to suit our fallen hearts. These counterfeits become our idols. When we speak of idols of the heart, we are referring to desires that have become so important to us that they have replaced God in our hearts. They control us, so we sometimes refer to these as controlling desires.
The Trunk: Our Functional Worldviews
Our idolatrous desires both shape and are shaped by our thinking. We develop patterns of thought that form the grid for our interactions with our world. We sometimes call these “shoots” because they arise out of our hearts’ interaction with the soil, but, because they continue to grow until they are strong and fixed, we can also call this the trunk. Both terms refer to our functional worldviews—our unspoken and largely unconscious set of beliefs about God, the world, ourselves, and other people, which form the basis for our daily lives. These are not the doctrinal affirmations you would likely recite if asked to describe what you officially believe. Instead, this set of beliefs is reflected in the ways that you actually live.
The Gospel: New Hearts, New Trees
The Tree Model illustrates that our behaviors—the fruit—are but a symptom of how the tree is functioning. When you hope in Christ, he renews your heart, and your entire tree is renewed. The Bible promises us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26–27) and describes and our new life as being “in Christ” (Romans 8:1), “hidden with Christ” (Colossians 3:3), and—using a tree metaphor—“grafted into” the tree of salvation (Romans 11:17). The new heart and new life that Christ gives is the beginning of an entirely new tree. In the gospel, our true and eternal identity is in Christ, even though we still battle with the patterns and baggage of our old ways. Rather than simple self-discipline and willpower, though, the real source of change is new faith and affections in our hearts, redeemed desires, and transformed worldviews—all given to us in Christ.
Back to Mike
So how did this help Mike, the questioning struggler with whom I was speaking? By examining his soil, Mike identified a few influential experiences: His dad abandoned the family when he was nine, and his mom became an alcoholic, leaving Mike to care for three younger siblings. By outward appearances, he succeeded admirably in this role, proving himself capable and receiving praise from others, but Mike’s heart became controlled by a fear of chaos and a strong desire for both control and affirmation—his roots. He developed the unspoken belief that, on one hand, people were a threat to him; on the other hand, their adoration of him was essential to his worth. He believed he must control people and things at all costs. Pornography was the fruit. In it, he fantasized about the adoration he craved while holding complete control and avoiding the chaos and threat of relationships. Now, no longer autonomous but armed with faith that his heart and identity were new in Christ, Mike brought all the truths and promises of the gospel to his experiences (soil), his desires (roots), and his thoughts (trunk).
Of course, this is a simplified and condensed version of Mike’s story. In reality, change happens over a lifetime of discipleship, in relationship with others in the Body of Christ. This is why we want leaders and individuals in churches to have this tool. We use our Tree Model to train people in a biblical view of sin and the gospel.
19 Aug 2021
The following is adapted from Unit 2, Lesson 1, of our newest curriculum for men, Discovery: A Biblical Support Group Curriculum for Men Pursuing Sexual Integrity, which is available as a FREE digital download here.
Do you really think the Church can be helpful to you in your current struggle? What impact do you think the Church has had, good or bad, on your struggle with sexual sin?
In Harvest USA’s Tree Model, the soil—your environment—is everything around you that you cannot control. Most of what has happened in your past is “fallen” and has been influential in the development of your particular sin patterns. Influential, but not determinative. The soil is not determinative because, ultimately, your heart is always interpreting and interacting with the soil. As we have seen in the last several lessons, though, the fallen world in which you live—in which your heart seeks life apart from God—plays a very significant role.
However, those of us who are in Christ, who have been given a new heart, also have new soil in one sense. Our new identity in Christ is not a lone identity. God puts every person with a new heart within a new context, the Church, which is called “the Body of Christ” in Scripture. Eventually, the new life we have in Christ will thrive in a wholly new heaven and new earth, perfect soil for a glorified humanity. For now, in this time of living by faith and not by sight, the Church is our experience of renewed soil. We are emphasizing here the fact that your placement in the Church is something that God has done; you don’t actually get to decide whether or not you will be a part of Christ’s Body.
Though a model can make everything seem neat and tidy, this life is messy and challenging, even in the Church. All of the patterns, habits, and desires of the old life are still with us. As the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 5:17, “flesh” wars with “Spirit.” This is the case for all the other people in Christ’s “Body” as well. The Church is made up of forgiven sinners on the path of being transformed, put into relationship with other forgiven sinners on the path of being transformed. So, the soil of the Church will seem like part-fallen soil, part-renewed soil. Yet, as with each of us individually, the Church’s true and eternal identity is not defined by the sin that remains but by the righteous and glorious future that is guaranteed in Christ. Indeed, the Church is the true and only soil in which our new hearts are designed to grow and thrive, so we must consider how God intends for that to happen. This is the subject of the next few lessons.
When we are united to Christ by faith and given new hearts, those new hearts are placed by God into the context of his Church, the community in which they are designed to grow and thrive.
In Ephesians 2:18–22, Paul uses three metaphors to describe the Church: citizenship, a household, and a building. We want to draw out some of the implications of those metaphors. A citizen belongs in his or her nation or commonwealth. A citizen has both rights and responsibilities—rights to benefits, to protection, and to enjoy the riches and resources of the nation, as well as responsibilities to loyalty and to participation in joint national activities, whether celebrations or wars. It shouldn’t be too hard to see how these things apply to our inclusion in the Church.
Household implies family, and the Church is our true family. The head of this household, our Father, is very rich! As members or his family, we enjoy his wealth, which is strength and power in our inner beings. It is Christ in our hearts through faith and a strong foundation “rooted and grounded in love.” Just like the love shared in a normal family is experientially deeper than in general relationships, we have insider knowledge of the love of Jesus as we experience his love in the context of the church family. God, who is more powerful than we can ever think, makes that power to work in us together, not just in individuals.
How much of what we wrongly seek in sexual sin—safety, love, affirmation, togetherness, power, and strength—is rightly provided to us in the Church? For many of us, our natural human families were not a source of many of these things, but we make a great mistake if we transfer our disappointment and pessimism about our families of origin to God’s family. We need to vigorously pursue the resources of being in God’s family.
Verses 21–22 depict the Church as a building or structure—specifically, a “holy temple.” The image of a temple highlights that God himself is among us, “a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” “Being joined together” and “being built together” communicate the idea of the many different people in the Church enjoying deep unity. The vital connection to the foundation, the apostles, the prophets in the Bible, and Christ as the cornerstone is common to all the individual parts.
Despite a certain cynicism about the Church, we must strive to see the Church as God intended her to be. Our experiences in the Church as sexual sinners have often been rocky. The truth is that the Church hasn’t been a friendly, welcoming environment for many sexual strugglers, but this is not the way God designed it. It is never wrong for us to hear the promises of God’s Word and dare to believe them, in spite of past experiences.
It is far too easy for us to respond to descriptions of what the Church is designed to be by becoming cynical or critical of all the ways we think people in the Church have fallen short of this ideal. Indeed, the failure of God’s people is real; we are called to forbear and forgive within the Church, as well as cry out to God to heal his Church and make it flourish. We also should be asking God to help us see how our own actions or inactions have contributed to the Church not being what we may have hoped. Either way, God is asking each of us to play a part in being the Church. As we grow in this, not only will it bring essential help and strength for our own battles with sin, but we will also be used to encourage and build up others in the Church.
May you gain an appreciation for the necessity of the Church for your growth in Christ; reflect on how your sin struggle has negatively affected your ability to reap the full blessings of life in the Church; and grow in motivation to seek nourishment for your heart in the soil of the Church.
In recent years, there’s been a lot of online chatter and debate about homosexuality and same-sex attraction. I have a burden on my heart for how our brothers and sisters who wrestle in this way are faring in the midst of these debates. I recently reconnected with a dear sister who we’ll call Danae. I hope our conversation encourages you!
All of us have a unique story of faith, growth, and working out our salvation. How has same-sex attraction been a part of yours?
Danae: I first realized I was attracted to women when I developed an emotional connection with a friend after college. Eventually, our relationship turned sexual. Prior to that experience, I wasn’t aware of romantic or sexual attractions to women; this relationship was purely emotional to begin with. Yet, looking back, I became aware that I didn’t experience the boy-crazy phase that excited my peers. I dated men but never felt emotionally connected to them, which didn’t raise any alarm bells until I experienced emotionally intoxicating feelings with my female friend. I finally understood what friends had been talking about earlier in life. I felt excited and ashamed at the same time that these feelings came through relationship with a woman.
After dating guys, what was it like for you to be in a relationship with that friend?
Danae: Well, like I said, it was intoxicating to finally be in a romantic relationship that felt like love! The reality is that we slowly grew into a very entangled, emotional enmeshment, but the path into it seemed so life-giving: Our schedules revolved around each other; she just understood me in ways that guys never did; it seemed like I was finally home in a mutually loving relationship. The guys I dated were nice enough, but I never really felt that I truly liked them.
What kind of faith battles did you have once getting involved in same-sex relationships?
Danae: It was tough! I knew that this newfound joy was at odds with my Christian faith, and it created a whirlwind of confusion. How could what felt so good and right to me with this woman be so bad? I’d seen so many dysfunctional heterosexual relationships, and yet my girlfriend and I shared respect, care, and love for each other. There was a massive amount of heartache and confusion that began swirling in my life as I processed what felt natural to me but what the Bible calls not only sinful but also unnatural. My feelings won out, and, after that first relationship ended, I was pursued by other women and had several secret girlfriends over the next few years.
So what led to your willingness to re-surrender to Christ’s loving Lordship over this part of your life?
Danae: It was a gut-wrenching process for me, and, honestly, it still is at times. I felt love in these relationships with women, so to choose to let go and pursue obedience to God not only meant leaving someone I loved but also facing my fear that I might be single for the remainder of life. The cost of losing love, of not knowing what God would give in its place, was terrifying. Another layer of pain for me was that when I began sharing my story with other believers, they celebrated my obedience but offered very little understanding of the deep grief I was experiencing. Even if same-sex relationships are sinful, the loss of them still included heartache, pain, and confusion for me.
I know you suffered in silence for quite awhile, unknown and unsupported. What gave you the courage to eventually open up to someone?
Danae: Desperation! The pain and confusion I was experiencing eventually became greater than my fear of others finding out. I was desperate for help, for answers, for Jesus, and for hope that I could live a different way. A ministry leader moved towards me with compassion, patience, and an amazing gift of listening and drawing me out. She created the first safe place for me to be totally honest. It was scary but so worth it. She discipled me through Sexual Sanity for Women, and, while it wasn’t easy, lightbulbs came on as I began to understand, for the first time, how hurt and angry I was. There were deep layers of unbelief that emerged, and my mentor gently walked with me (and still does today!) as I faced the reality that I wanted to run my own life, and, in fact, thought I deserved to have what I wanted—what felt good to me. It’s been a slow journey that continues to this day, requiring me to trust God and his Word more than I trust myself, my feelings, and the way I think my life should work.
What is it like for you, with all the online debate among God’s people about homosexuality and how to talk about same-sex attraction? Does it help or hinder you?
Danae: To be honest, it depends. It can be heartbreaking and confusing on one hand, encouraging and inspiring on the other. It all depends on what the motivation of these discussions are. God’s Word has become precious to me, and knowing that his design is for our good has changed the way I view this struggle. To know that some Christians have gone soft on what the Bible clearly says is so deflating. When believers promote “gay Christianity,” it’s so disheartening because I’m seeking to be faithful to Jesus! My own brothers and sisters are forsaking the God who I’ve turned towards when turning away from sinful relationships! And yet I want to mention as well that it can be demotivating to hear leaders fighting about this stuff online as only an issue that needs to be clarified biblically. We absolutely need to have biblical faithfulness about this topic, but I also plead with leaders to not forget the people who are in the throes of working out their faith and repentance because of personal battles with same-sex desires. I’m grateful that Harvest USA seems to keep a helpful balance of biblical clarity and truth woven with compassionate, ground-level discipleship.
One final question for you: What would you say to the woman or man who is reading this and who is where you were so many years ago—hurting, wrestling in secret, and scared to reach out for help?
Danae: You’re not alone! I understand how scary it might seem to open up to someone about your same-sex relationships, inclinations, and what you really believe about all this. I get it—I really do! Jesus is not only inviting you, but also calling you, out of hiding and shame into himself, towards his love. That’s the true “outing” that all of us need, not to identify with our desires but to bring all of it to God. He’s promised to provide comfort and courage for the road in front of you—a road that will be hard and painful to some degree. Like I said earlier, I have grieved my sin and grieved what I lost when I gave up my sinful relationships. Yet living for and through Christ is the only true path towards the deep love we all want. Don’t give up; just take one step at a time.
Please pray for Danae and the many Christian women and men who are following Jesus faithfully, daring to push back on shifting convictions among God’s people.
Join Shalee as she talks about commonly deferred hopes, dreams, and expectations; the painful feelings that accompany these unfulfilled longings; a biblical way of hoping well; and how God sees our pain and wants us to come to him.
17 Dec 2020
In this blog, we’re happy to highlight our newest staff member, Shalee Lehning!
Women’s Ministry Staff
Description of Work at Harvest USA
I serve in our Direct Ministry by offering targeted discipleship and small group facilitation. My focus is working with individuals who seek help for their sexual struggles, as well as those who have been impacted by the sexual struggles of others. In addition, I’m involved in the equipping component of Harvest USA, which includes participating in teaching and equipping events and producing resources for Harvest USA.
How did you get to Harvest USA?
In 2015, while living in Laramie, Wyoming, I was first introduced to Sexual Sanity for Women, a discipleship resource by Harvest USA. Not only did God use that resource in a powerful way in my own life, but I was ultimately able to use that same resource to facilitate biblical support groups for other women in my home church. Several years later, I discovered the internship program at Harvest USA, which compelled me to move across the country in 2018 in hopes of becoming better equipped to minister in these areas. At the completion of my yearlong internship, the opportunity arose for me to join the Women’s Ministry staff full-time in July of 2019.
What is your favorite Scripture?
2 Corinthians 10:9–10, which says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
What do you love or enjoy about working at Harvest?
In the face of deep struggle and heartache, I get to watch men and women courageously battle for that which they believe in. We live in a world today that boasts in autonomy, and we are constantly bombarded with messages that crash against biblical beliefs. I am so encouraged when I see believers standing for what they believe is true, even as they expose themselves for their beliefs. In addition, I think it takes great humility to invite someone into the mess and pain of your life and ask for help. Working at Harvest allows me to witness this type of bravery on a regular basis. There truly is beauty in our brokenness, where Jesus meets us.
What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far from direct ministry?
Only God can bring about true heart change in our lives. Even our most valiant efforts to bring about change will come up empty if we aren’t allowing God to work in and through us. This has been a deep encouragement to me personally because, in a way, it takes the pressure off of us as ministry staff. The burdens of this life are too heavy for us to carry. We will buckle under the pain and heartache of this world without God, and what a wearisome task it is to rely on our human efforts to bring about anything more than behavioral change. As I’ve walked with women through our direct ministry, a verse I have turned to often is the promise God gives us in Isaiah 43:1–2, which says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
What are one or two things you would like to share with anyone reading?
First, you are not alone. No matter what hidden struggle you might have. No matter how many questions you might have about God. No matter how broken or ashamed or worthless or hopeless you might feel. Jesus sees you. There is not only a way out of the darkness but also healing for your pain. If you are struggling to believe that right now, reach out for help. I believed the lie for a long time that I was the only Christian struggling in these ways. Not only is that not true, but many other Christians are also drinking deeply of the grace of God in these areas.
Second, don’t go at this alone. As we step out in honesty, we open ourselves to receiving God’s care and love from other believers. I refer to Exodus 17:12–13 often when I think about needing others’ help. Moses was leading the people of Israel into battle, and, as long as he held his staff in the air, the Israelites prevailed. As time passed, though, his arms grew tired, and Moses was unable to hold the staff up on his own. Aaron and Hur came alongside Moses and literally held his arms up for him. If we are honest, we all need people to come alongside us and hold our arms up through life’s storms.
What is your favorite thing about living in Philadelphia?
The Wissahickon Valley Park Trail System. I love being active outside! This trail system goes for miles, connecting the city to the suburbs. I enjoy riding my bike on this trail into the city as it provides a unique vantage point to experience Philly.
Can you tell us an interesting fact about yourself?
I love sports! I grew up playing a variety of sports, but my love for basketball eventually won out as my favorite. I was blessed by an opportunity to play college basketball at Kansas State University. Eventually, my childhood dream of playing in the WNBA came true when I was drafted in 2009 by the Atlanta Dream. It was a privilege to travel all over the country and play the sport that I loved.
You can also watch the video, “From Athletics to Ministry: God’s Unexpected Surprises“, which corresponds to this blog.
23 Nov 2020
If you struggle with codependency and obsessive attachments, take heart! The Lord can help you and change you.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart or Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share by Ellen Dykas. When you buy these minibooks from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “Codependent No More: Encouragement for Keeping Christ Central in Our Relationships,” which corresponds to this video.
God created us as sexual beings, so it makes sense that our sexual desires would be a primary target for attack. Thankfully, God did not leave us helpless. He gave us his word, and he gave us Ephesians 6—a very well known passage addressing spiritual warfare. In this video, Shalee Lehning explains how we can pray the armor of God (as outlined in Ephesians 6:10-20) into our sexual struggles and temptations.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our resources, such as Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God About Sex by John Freeman and Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness by Ellen Mary Dykas. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, When an Unseen Enemy Assaults You, which corresponds to this video.
In my last post, I talked about what 1 Corinthians 7:4 does not say. I argued that the passage does not, in any way, support sex on demand in marriage. Today, I’d like to consider what it does say. The picture of sex in marriage that these verses present is radically countercultural in our world. In these verses, both the husband and the wife are called to give to the other spouse sexually, with intentional, purposeful deliberateness. The picture is not one of stimulus-response, passion-driven, sex-drive satisfaction.
To use classical categories, sex is described as an expression of agape love, not eros love. Agape is the intentional, deliberate, self-sacrificial love with which God loves us, and with which we are then called to love each other. Eros is the passion of sexual desire. Sex in marriage may obviously entail eros, but it is to be primarily led by agape.
In our culture, eros is revered, even worshiped, as the highest experience, the key to human flourishing, the foundation and requisite of any life-partner relationship, even in marriage. Our culture expects the passion of erotic attraction to be the initiating and sustaining dynamic of any such relationship—so much so that we might say that eros itself is the goal, and relationships only exist or continue inasmuch as they serve eros.
But think of how destructive this eros-led view is to a marriage: A couple plunges into marriage, sure that they have found (or have been found by!) true love. But when the daily, mundane, and unpleasant work of living with another sinful being comes to the fore, the erotic attraction to each other fades or disappears altogether. They’ve lost “that lovin’ feeling.” Sex ends. The relationship requires increasingly harder work, even as their motivation to do that hard work disappears. Of course, this happens because the foundation of the relationship was romantic eros. And the problem is not just the fact that spontaneous romantic erotic arousal fades for the married couple. Equally destructive is the fact that the capacity for arousal does not disappear—it just leaves this relationship. Eros is fickle, elusive, and spontaneous, with a spontaneity that is just as likely to attach itself to someone outside of the marriage. Or, frustrated by its elusiveness, a husband or wife can harness it to their imaginations via pornography or romance novels. Many marriages don’t survive this.
But wait. Perhaps you have heard this often. Christians usually advise that the marriage relationship be based on more than sexual attraction. But 1 Corinthians 7 says something much less common; it extends this principle to sexuality itself. In other words, you may have heard that a marriage relationship should not be led by sexual arousal. In these verses, God tells us that sex should not be led by sexual arousal, at least not primarily! The picture that the apostle Paul paints is not of two people waiting for the rush of romantic attraction to come upon them. Our culture worships moments like this. Such a synchronous alignment of erotic attraction is deemed proof you have found the “real thing.” But, in reality, this is only a firm basis for something as temporary and fleeting as a one-time hookup, nothing more. No, these verses teach us that not only marriage in the broader sense, but also the sexual expression of that marriage, is to be founded in, shaped by, motivated by, and sustained by intentional, deliberate, self-sacrificial agape love.
Perhaps you can imagine some of the implications of this radical perspective on sex and marriage. I will mention a few.
If you are married:
- Your sex life is not captive to the whims of erotic attraction. If husband and wife are motivated to move toward the other sexually on the basis of an intentional commitment to give to the other sacrificially, sex will not be limited to those rare moments when the erotic stars align. Isn’t it obvious that a couple applying Paul’s instruction will have sex more often? The irony is that this will result in much more eros in a marriage, not less; however, it will not be the driving force, but a fruit of agape.
- There is hope for your marriage, despite your personal history of eros. Many married people have lengthy, personal histories of being led by eros. Not only have they learned to be slaves of spontaneous erotic attraction, but that attraction has habitually been attached to something other than their spouse, like other individuals (i.e., old flames) or pornographic images. The memory and power of these habits of eros have no respect for your marriage vows. If you continue to be led by eros, these old habits will constantly intrude and compete quite effectively against your spouse for your loyalty. But if you make even your sexuality subject to your agape love for your spouse, the two of you will build new habits of eros on a foundation that your old memories can’t touch. Having renounced their power to control you, these old, erotic masters will increasingly lose their ability to draw you away from your spouse.
If you are single:
- Your sex life is not captive to the whims of erotic attraction. The world and your own flesh are trying to seduce you into patterns of slavery to erotic attraction that will leave you empty, broken, discarded, and hopeless. Now is the time to learn to receive God’s agape love and give it to others. This love is your eternal inheritance; it, not eros, is the key to human flourishing. Practice treating it as such. And if, in the future, God brings you into marriage, the eros you enjoy will depend upon the agape love in that marriage. Be wary of how pornography, the media, and peers seek to train you otherwise.
Take heart that Christ came to redeem all aspects of sexuality, including your beliefs about sexual attraction and love.
You can also watch the video, “What About the Sexless Marriage?,” which corresponds to this blog.